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November 11, 2013

Taking Up A Cause

Corbin woman travels to Washington to mark anniversary of ‘I Have a Dream’ speech

CORBIN — By Becky Killian - Times-Tribune Editor

Mary Pennington never saw herself as the sort of person to take up a cause — at least until the verdict was read in the George Zimmerman trial in July.

Like thousands of people across the country, Pennington, 76, followed the Florida trial of Zimmerman, who was charged with murder for the February shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teen. When police didn’t immediately arrest Zimmerman, the case drew criticism from some who said the shooting occurred because Zimmerman, a Hispanic, profiled Martin because he was black.

Because of her lingering concern about that verdict, an Aug. 8 Lexington Herald-Leader column by Merlene Davis caught Pennington’s attention.

The column focused on a bus trip to Washington D.C. planned to mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr’s. “I Have a Dream” speech.

Davis reported one of the trip’s organizers — Gina DeArth — had coordinated a “Justice for Trayvon” rally in Lexington. During that rally, DeArth told Davis she was asked to coordinate a trip to Washington.

Stirred by the column and her concern that justice wasn’t served in the Zimmerman case, Pennington called for details about the trip.

Pennington decided she was going to get on that bus.

News of the trip unsettled some of Pennington’s family members. One cautioned her she may be the only white person on the bus.

That didn’t matter to Pennington.

“I’ve never been prejudiced against black people,” Pennington said.

Another relative questioned her about what her grandchildren would think of the trip. Pennington said she was doing it for her grandchildren.

When she boarded the bus Aug. 23 in Lexington, Pennington said she found herself among both blacks and whites — some of whom talked about the Zimmerman verdict while they traveled.

She also recalled a white passenger who became emotional when he talked about how his mother kept him from a childhood friend simply because his friend was black.

Pennington was among those on the bus to share her frustration about the verdict with her fellow travelers — as well as proudly mentioning her eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Once in Washington D.C., the group toured the popular sites and attended some of the speeches that were part of the city’s commemoration of King’s speech.

“It felt great,” Pennington said. “I felt like I was making part of history.”

As she walked through the city, Pennington said she met and quickly befriended a black woman who had been in D.C. when King spoke.

In 1963, Pennington said she saw King on TV. Although she was an admirer of Rosa Parks, Pennington admits it took her a while to understand the urgency in King’s message.

“I thought he was a little bit radical at the time,” she reflected, adding she later came to understand King’s push for change given the suffering blacks had endured.

Part of that understanding came as Pennington reflected on her days as a schoolgirl when she was bullied by another girl. The bullying was so persistent she said her teacher released her from class 15 minutes early so she could get a head start home.

Now, Pennington said King achieved a lot for blacks.

“And I think he was trying to do it in a peaceful way,” she said.

After returning home, Pennington admits her family had some concern about drawing attention to the trip for fear of the community’s reaction.

That hesitation led Pennington to cancel the first appointment she had to be interviewed by the Times-Tribune; however she later changed her mind.

“I thought it was time I stood up for what I believe,” Pennington said.

As for what her grandchildren will think about her actions, Pennington said she hopes they know what their grandmother thinks.

“I’m glad I went,” Pennington said.

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